Lady in the Van

Lady in the Van
Opens 13 November in the UK

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Book at Bedtime - Cousin Bette

From Monday the 2nd of January 2012, Alex will be reading the book at bedtime on Radio 4, on weeknights at 10.45 pm.

A tale of seductive women and philandering men, of passionate affairs and spiralling debts, Cousin Bette paints a vivid portrait of Paris in the 1830s and '40s. It's a city full of temptations, in which money is king, morals are loose and the appeals of the virtuous are usually in vain. In the midst of it all sits a poor relation, Cousin Bette, like a spider in her web. Fuelled by bitterness and jealousy, she is determined to weave destruction into the lives of her extended family, the socially superior Hulots.

With her friend and accomplice, the beautiful Madame Marneffe, Bette sets out to manipulate events so that men are brought to their knees and their wives to despair, and she attains the power and prestige she seeks.
Cousin Bette was written in less than a year, in serial instalments, often only completed just before the deadline. Within its pages, Balzac conjures a kaleidoscope of characters from all walks of life, chronicles the rise of a grasping bourgeoisie and tells a gripping tale of jealousy, passion and treachery.

Many thanks to Jen.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Behind the Scenes at NT Live

The twitter feed for NT Live (@ntlive) has a few backstage pictures. None of the cast unfortunately.

The all important typewriter:


One picture from the broadcast truck midway through the play:


NT Live Collaborators Review

 
Unfortunately I was unable to attend the live performance of Collaborators a couple of weeks ago due to illness, but I was able to get a ticket to see the NT Live cinema broadcast of the show this evening.

The play is set 'in the round', but not actually in the round, the set is like two islands connected by a corridor of stage.  This means that there is one pocket of audience marooned on one side, but it's an interesting set.

It's 1938 and Bulgakov lives in a cramped Moscow apartment, so cramped they have a lodger living in the kitchen cupboard, he wants to stage his long gestated Moliere play, but it's been banned.  Then he's offered a choice by the secret police, write a celebratory play for Stalin's 60th birthday and get the play reinstated...

Bulgakov is first introduced in his vest and long johns hopping out of bed to investigate the loud knocking from his kitchen cupboard, as he approaches, Stalin leaps out and chases Bulgakov around the department.  This is of course a recurring nightmare and not reality. Also Bulgakov isn't well and his wife (the excellent Jacqueline Defferary) drags him to an overworked and slightly libidinous doctor, who eventually diagnoses nephrosclerosis, a terminal disease.  Then to make matters worse he's coerced into writing a play for Stalin's sixtieth birthday by the secret police, an avuncular, yet cruel Vladimir (Mark Addy) and his largely silent subordinate (Marcus Cunningham).  Only after a trip to the wood panelled execution room and veiled threats towards his wife, does Bulgakov reluctantly accept the commission.



He has difficulty starting the play and eventually he gets a call from someone unknown to meet him in a secret room beneath the Kremlin.  The unknown voice is, of course, that of Stalin who limps in smiling.  Simon Russell Beale makes Stalin both oddly buffoonish, yet in a heartbeat his face hardens and you can believe that he's a man capable of the utmost cruelty.  Stalin begins to dictate what he'd like Bulgakov to write: a lurid melodramatic story of his rise from humble cobbler's son to dictator. Bulgakov can't keep up with Stalin's fast pace and Stalin ushers Bulgakov to the other side of the table and begins to type the play up himself to save time. The play is interspersed with snippets of Stalin's play, which is in fact quite a clunker.

On the next occasion Stalin is late for the writing session and blames affairs of state. He's brought a pile of paperwork with him and exhorts Bulgakov to attend to it. Bulgakov capitulates and writes an innocuous comment in red pencil on the steel production report: 'make more, or else'.  At the next session he's amazed to find that production has increased by over half. Then when Bulgakov reads a report that some members of the Communist party have been conspiring to murder Stalin, his somewhat bland and inexact 'make further enquiries' has a devastating impact. There is a mounting sense of terror, there are suicides, his lodgers are snatched from the street by the secret police and Bulgakov begins to feel like an apologist for Stalin's actions and feels the corrupting influence of absolute power.


The performances are uniformly excellent and well characterised, from the small role of Sergei (Pierce Reed), the cupboard dweller, to Mark Addy's Vladimir. Sergei  is a slip of a thing, dressed in well worn work clothes and Mark Addy as Vladimir impresses.  Simon Russell Beale is of course fantastic as Stalin; he's at times funny, but then flips to being capricious and megalomaniacal.  His soft West Country burr makes him seem more cuddly than he seems.

Alex plays Bulgakov and, what many of the reviews failed to mention, he's on stage for the entire performance; he is the steady centre of the play, the character around whom everything else revolves. He's dressed in well worn clothes, that are neat, but shabby, his greatcoat is just slightly too big for him, an indication of his illness.  He's principled, kind, generous and intelligent, he wants to refuse yet his love for his wife means that he can't refuse the commission.  When he begins working with Stalin, he's afraid and wary, calling him Sir instead of Joseph, but as he relaxes, it becomes 'Joseph'. His apartment now has heating and hot running water and Bulgakov gets a sharp new pinstripe suit and his own personal driver.

Alex really has to drive the play along and he does so in an unshowy and expert way, his performance isn't selfish, his role doesn't over shadow anyone else and he's a generous enough performer to allow the lions share of the laughs to go to other characters.  John Hodge's play is very good, a small dialogue between Vladimir and his wife tells us so much about his social status and his sub-plot about the writer Grigory (an intense William Postlesthwaite) is woven with care into the play.  The direction (by Nicholas Hytner)  is superb, the play is well paced and structured. If I had one criticism, it would be that the play is so generously stuffed with ideas that the heart and emotion between Bulgakov and his wife is a little swamped.

The NT Live experience is different to a theatre experience, for one, you are are gifted with a plethora of close ups of the actors, so close you can see the tears about to spill from Yelena's eyes and mad glare that replaces the avuncular look on Stalin's face.   It's a treat to be able to see the actors in such close up and the camera positions and direction were very good. 

I hope that everyone who would like to see the play gets to see it.  I heartily recommend it and I'm hoping to see it again in the Olivier (if I can get tickets). 

Thursday, December 01, 2011

NT Live Cinema Broadcast

The NT live cinema broadcast is tonight at 7 pm GMT. Is anyone else going?

To celebrate the month of December the National Theatre is having a month of giveaways and competitions and today is the turn of Collaborators: John Hodge’s darkly comic new play Collaborators broadcasts live tonight around the world with NT Live . We’re giving away digital programmes to the first ten people to tell us which Bulgakov play was staged in 1926 at The Moscow Art Theatre, and boasted Stalin as a fan?

BONUS: The first 5 people to also tell us which of Bulgakov's characters was inspired by his third wife Yelena Shilovskaya will win a pair of tickets to see the play live in the Olivier Theatre in May, 2012. Email ntcheer@nationaltheatre.org.uk with your answers. Last entries 4pm today –winners will be notified by 6pm. Good luck.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Collaborators in The Olivier

The National Theatre announced today that once the current run in the Cottesloe theatre has concluded, Collaborators will transfer to the Olivier Theatre, where it will open the 2012 Travelex £12 Tickets Season for a limited run from 30 April. 

Booking for new performances opens at 9.30 a.m. on Wednesday 23rd November.  

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Time Out Review


Time Out gives the play 4 stars out of 5. Caroline McGinn says the following about the character and performances:

"...the dying liberal writer (played by a patrician Alex Jennings) is haunted by his country's devilish Master Josef Stalin (Simon Russell Beale), a papa-tyrant who claims to be his 'Number one fan'."

"...Half reality and half dream, it's a cat-and-mouse game between Jennings's mild, elegant writer and Russell Beale's cuddly but sinister tyrant. Hytner's production even opens like a Soviet 'Tom and Jerry', in which Russell Beale's plump and growling Stalin leaps out of Bulgakov's wardrobe and chases him round the room."

"...Russell Beale has a wonderful talent for portraying the banality of evil but never seems really dangerous here. But 'Collaborators' is designed to neuter him. Bulgakov evades his thick-whiskered pursuer precisely because the conflict between art and power is restaged on Bulgakov's ground: the bloodless arena of the imagination."

Full review at: Time Out

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Sunday Reviews


Susannah Clapp in the Observer has the following to say about Alex's performance:

Still, the wings of the play are Alex Jennings and Simon Russell Beale.

As Bulgakov, Jennings is reed-like, glistening with anxiety: the embodiment of febrility and ill-fated aspiration.

Full review at the website: Observer




In the Telegraph's Seven Magazine Tim Walker writes: "Simon Russell Beale’s well-upholstered, bewigged Stalin has something of the air of a salt-of-the-earth northern farmer out of All Creatures Great and Small, and this contributes greatly to the sense of the surreal. There is a splendid chemistry between the old brute and Alex Jennings’s bookish, bow-tied and somewhat fey playwright."

Full review: Telegraph


Claudia Pritchard in the Independent has the following to say: "Playing cat and mouse in this gradually darkening burlesque are Simon Russell Beale as Stalin, rugged and coiffured, limping and threatening, playful and steely, and Alex Jennings, airily courageous, bohemian and correct. This star casting coupled with the 24-carat direction of Nicholas Hytner made the show a sell-out before it opened."

Full review at: Independent


Sarah Hemming in the Financial Times: "Simon Russell Beale and Alex Jennings deliver these scenes superbly. ... Jennings’s tense, waxy Bulgakov suggests his character’s appalled fascination with his tormentor and his ghastly realisation that he has been played."

Full review: Financial Times

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Front Row Review

"Collaborators" was reviewed on BBC Radio 4 Front Row on 2 November. If you want to listen, the episode is available as a podcast to download on BBC Podcasts.

Thanks to Penny!

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Collaborators Programme and Playtext

Both the programme and the full text of the play are now available from The National Theatre shop on the website.

See NT Shop for more information.

Evening Standard Review




Henry Hitchings praises the performances of Alex and Simon Russell Beale:

"And Nicholas Hytner's agile production is illuminated by fine performances from two of the National Theatre's stalwarts, Alex Jennings and Simon Russell Beale."

"Jennings eloquently conveys the pain of Bulgakov, whose circumstances improve as he turns into an apologist for Stalin's politics."

See: Evening Standard for the full review.

Collaborators Pictures


NT Live has posted a series of pictures from the production on Facebook:

NT Live

Fascinating pictures. So, who's going?

Collaborators: The First Reviews



The Guardian's Michael Billington has the following to say about Alex's performance:

"While I may question Hodge's arguments, his play has a nightmarish vivacity well captured in Nicholas Hytner's freewheeling production on Bob Crowley's zig-zagging traverse stage. And, if Bulgakov is seen as a reluctant victim of a brutal system, Alex Jennings memorably endows him with an extra-textual complexity. He plays him as a man ineluctably drawn into a pact with the Devil, who slowly awakens to the horrors of the bargain he has made, and who is filled with a sense of self-betrayal."

Billington gives the production three stars out of five.

Full review at: the guardian




The Daily Mail's Quentin Letts feels Simon Russell Beale's Stalin dominates the production but:

"Bulgakov is done with amiable dreaminess by Alex Jennings. Mr Jennings is always lovely to watch, even if he lacks some intensity."

Full review: Daily Mail




In the Telegraph Charles Spencer feels "this production will be best remembered for its dream-casting of Alex Jennings as the harassed, haunted Bulgakov and Simon Russell Beale as a Stalin who delights in playing cat-and-mouse games with him.

Jennings’s sweaty anxiety as Bulgakov finds himself traped by his tormentor’s devious wiles is superbly caught. Better still is Russell Beale’s Stalin, all peasant joviality, man-of the world practicality and sudden moments of unctuous flattery, until his eyes suddenly go dead and you see the cold calculating monster that lurks beneath the façade.

This is a truly tremendous double act which thrills chills and makes you laugh out loud - even though you know you shouldn’t."

He gives the production four stars out of five.

Full review at: Telegraph

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Collaborators

The first rehearsal pictures of "Collaborators" were made available by NT Live on their facebook page:



Sunday, October 16, 2011

Casino Royale

BBC Radio 4 Extra this week repeats Alex reading Ian Flemings "Casino Royale". Broadcasts Monday to Friday at 2.45pm.

James Bond travels to France for a deadly engagement – attempting to bankrupt an enemy spy organisation at the baccarat table.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Goldfish Girl

This Tuesday, 11th October, Radio 4 repeats "Goldfish Girl". The play was written by Peter Souter and stars Juliet Stevenson together with Alex. Joe can remember everything about Ally, the love of his life for ten years. Ally, however, can remember nothing about Joe.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Boys From Brazil

Alex will be reading Ira Levin's "The Boys From Brazil" on BBC Radio 4 Extra this week. For the schedule see: BBC Radio 4 Extra.

Thanks to Jen!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Explorers of the Nile

Alex will be reading "Explorers of the Nile" as BBC Radio 4's Book of the Week. The readings are at 09.45 and are repeated at 00.30.

More information at: the BBC website.

Thanks to Jen!

King James Bible

Alex will be taking part in the National Theatre's readings from the King James Bible. He is in the cast of the reading of the Gospel According to John on 23 October and 6 November. For more information and tickets check the National Theatre Website.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Collaborators Dates Announced

Playbill has this information on the new production:

"Collaborators will begin performances Oct. 25 in the Cottesloe Theatre, prior to an official opening Nov. 1. It reunites the National’s artistic director Nicholas Hytner with actors Simon Russell Beale and Alex Jennings, with whom he has regularly worked, including once together in The Alchemist. In the play, based on historical fact, Beale plays Stalin and Jennings is dissident playwright Mikhail Bulgakov, who is offered a commission to write a play about Stalin to celebrate his 60th birthday.

According to press materials, the play "depicts a lethal game of cat and mouse through which the appalling compromises and humiliations inflicted on any artist by those with power are held up to scrutiny." Hodges is best known for his screenplays to films that include "Shallow Grave," "Trainspotting," "A Life Less Ordinary," "The Beach," "The Final Curtain" and "The Dark is Rising." The cast also includes Mark Addy, Sarah Annis, Marcus Cunningham, Jacqueline Defferary, Patrick Godfrey, Michael Jenn, Jess Murphy, William Postlethwaite, Pierce Reid, Nick Sampson, Maggie Service and Perri Snowdon. The production will also be broadcast to cinemas worldwide as part of National Theatre Live."

The original piece is at: Playbill


The National Theatre adds booking information:

Supporting Cast: Online booking opens on Mon 5 September
Priority Members: Online booking opens on Thu 8 September
Advance Members: Online booking opens on Mon 12 September
General Public: Online booking opens on Tue 20 September

More information at: National Theatre Collaborators

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Literary Britten in Cambridge

from the Cambridge News Website:

"A recital of music and readings by Benjamin Britten and WH Auden will be taking place in Girton College Gardens, under the heading Literary Britten: A Recital. Actor Alex Jennings, tenor Andrew Kennedy and pianist Iain Burnside will help bring the words and sounds of these two greats alive in this pleasingly academic setting, before the programme is taken on a European tour. September 4, 2pm, Girton College, Cambridge. Tickets are £15 (£10 concessions). Contact (01223) 338992."

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Collaborators - NT Live

The new play Alex will be in with Simon Russell Beale at the National, Collaborators, will be part of the next NT Live Season. The broadcast has been announced for 1 December 2011.

For more information check the NT Live website: Collaboratos

Friday, July 29, 2011

Stream, River, Sea

The play by Peter Souter will be broadcast again this Thursday, 4 August, at 14.15 on BBC Radio 4. It stars Alex and Juliet Stevenson.

For more information: BBC Radio 4

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Margaret Tyzack

Alex has written a lovely letter to The Guardian to commemorate Margaret Tyzack. It reads:

"My friend Margaret Tyzack (obituary, 28 June) gave her final stage performance last Christmas, in Paris, at the Théâtre du Chatelet, in Robert Carsen's sumptuous production of My Fair Lady. Maggie played Mrs Higgins, and I was her son, Henry. Maggie looked resplendent in Anthony Powell's Dufy-inspired frocks, and delivered a characteristically sensitive, no-nonsense, witty, masterclass of a performance. Every Shavian line landed like a depth charge in that vast and beautiful theatre. I had worked with Maggie twice before then – in The Importance of Being Earnest and in His Girl Friday. Maggie was a magnificent actor, a magnificent person, and a true friend – loyal, supportive, generous, forthright, and a prolific sender of wonderful postcards."

The original: The Guardian

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Ashenden

The radio recordings of Ashenden, Gentleman Spy will be broadcast again this week on BBC Radio 4 Extra. The five episodes will be broadcast Monday to Friday at 6am, 1am, 8pm and 1am.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Twenty Minutes

Alex is the reader for this week's episode of Twenty Minutes. The programme will be broadcast on Monday night at 20.25 on BBC Radio 3. The story is called 'A Warning to the Curious', and was written by M.R. James.

For more information check: BBC Radio 3.

Thanks to Jen!

Saturday, May 07, 2011

That's Mine, This Is Yours

This BBC Radio 4 play starred Alex and Tamsin Greig, and it was broadcast last week. The website gives the following description: "Sam and Juliet are divorcing. They arrange to meet to divide up their remaining possessions. In Peter Souter's romantic comedy, this proves less easy than they might have envisaged." This week it is play of the week and can be downloaded as a podcast from:

Play of the Week Podcast.

The play stays up until Friday 13 May.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Hymn

Alex will appear at the Salisbury Festival on Sunday 29 May in the production Hymn. The festival's website gives the following description of the production:

"Best known for his film scores, Fenton writes extensively for the theatre. In this
work he draws on musical references including Elgar, Delius and several well known hymns. Alex Jennings will present the role of Alan Bennett in this performance, following on from his recent appearance in Alan Bennett's play The Habit of Art at the National Theatre, where he played Benjamin Britten. The evening is completed with a performance of Ravel's String Quartet, followed by a Q&A."

The music will be performed by the Medici Quartet.

For more information see the Salisbury Festival Website.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Small Gods

"Small Gods" will be repeated on BBC Radio 4 Extra from this Friday. For times of broadcasts see BBC Radio 4 Extra.

Thanks to Jen.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Alex will play the part of Caractacus Potts in a new production of "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" to be broadcast on Radio 4 Extra, tomorrow Sunday 3 April.

This is Ian Fleming's classic tale of a car saved from the scrapyard, which takes the Potts family on a magical adventure. Also stars Imogen Stubbs, and it was directed by Charlotte Riches from BBC Drama, Manchester.

The play will be broadcast at 9am, 4pm and 5am and will then be available on the iPlayer.

BBC Radio 4 Extra is the newly relaunched BBC Radio 7.

Thanks to Jen!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Silk

Alex will appear in an episode of the BBC series "Silk" this Tuesday. He plays the part of Alan Cowdrey QC in this final episode. Silk will be shown on Tuesday 29 March on BBC One at 21.00.

Thanks to Penny!

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Friday, March 04, 2011

Words and Music

Alex will be a reader on Words and Music on two consecutive Sundays on BBC Radio 3. The programmes are called Fire and Ice and were inspired by Robert Frost's poem. The first programme, Fire, starts 23.00 on Sunday 6 March, the second programme, Ice, starts 22.30 on Sunday 13 March.

Thanks to Jennifer.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Offies

Alex was one of the presenters at the Offies, the award ceremony for London fringe theatre productions. The ceremony took place on 27 February at Wilton's Music Hall. Mark Shenton writes about the event in The Stage.

At the awards Alex commented on the Oscars, which took place the same evening. “I certainly wouldn’t say no to one,” he said to Tim Walker of The Telegraph.

Pictures of the event can be found at londonist.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Dickens' London

Alex is one of four actors to portray Charles Dickens at different stages of his life in a series of short plays bases on his journalistic essays on BBC Radio 4. The other actors are Antony Sher, Samuel Barnett and Hugo Docking, the plays are written by Michael Eaton and the series is called "Dicken's London". The plays will be broadcast at the end of they year.

See: The Stage News

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Nocturne

Alex continues his collaboration with Lucy Parham on the Chopin programme Nocturne this year. Two dates have been announced:

6 May - Loughborough
20 May - Bury St. Edmunds

Harriet Walter is the other actor for these two performances.

For more information check Lucy Parhams Website.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Dinner

Alex attended a formal dinner last night, and is pictured here with the host: Zimbio

And a second picture, with Alfie Boe joining in: the wire

Alex performed at Buckingham Palace with the Medici Quartet for supporters of the Prince's Foundation for Children and the Arts.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Collaborators

Playbill adds a title to the new NT play, to open in the Cottesloe in October:

Playbill

Back to the NT

Some news from Whatsonstage:

"Finally, John Hodge’s stage debut will be directed by Nicholas Hytner and will open in October. Another offering that doesn’t yet have a title, the play centres on an imaginary encounter between Joseph Stalin and the playwright Mikhail Bulgakov, with Alex Jennings playing Bulgakov opposite Whatsonstage.com Award nominee Simon Russell Beale as Stalin. Hodge’s screenwriting credits include Shallow Grave and A Life Less Ordinary as well as Trainspotting."

Sunday, January 23, 2011

My Year Off

Another chance to hear Robert McCrum's searingly honest account of his devastating stroke at the age of 42, "My Year Off". With Alex Jennings and Madeline Potter. BBC Radio 4, Wednesday 26 January 2.15-3.00pm, and for a week after on BBC iPlayer.

Thanks to Jen!